Nutson's Nuggets - Automotive News Factoids Week of March 31-April 6, 2014
Auto Central Louisville, KY April 6, 2014 Each week Larry Nutson, Senior Editor, New York Bureau of The Auto Channel, along with Steve Purdy and Thom Cannell from The Auto Channel Michigan Bureau give you easy to digest nuggets of the past week's automotive news you may have missed.
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Automotive News March 31-April 6, 2014
* Spring has sprung in the auto industry with March sales up 6% and 1.54 million units sold. Most analysts thought the unusually harsh winter weather in much of the country hurt January and February sales to some degree and that may mean some pent up demand may need sating this spring. The SAAR was at 16.3 million, up from 15.3 million a year ago. Overall car sales were up 1% and truck sales up 11%. Nearly every brand is up, but there are a few down-ers. Luxury cars continue their 3-month big sales gains, with LIncoln noted at a 31% increase. VW continues to struggle but noteworthy is that nearly 27% of sales are TDI Clean diesel models. Ram pickup outsold Chevy Silverado for the first time since 1999. GM sales were up 4% in spite of the GM "Switchgate" recall.
* After long delays the NHTSA will require automakers to make rearview cameras standard on all cars and light-duty trucks in an effort to reduce deaths and injuries from back-over crashes. This Federal safety standard will mandate rear visibility technology in all new vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds and made on or after May 1, 2018.
* No more outside mirrors? The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 12 companies including GM, Toyota and Volkswagen, along with Tesla filed a petition with the NHTSA seeking permission to no longer require outside rear view mirrors. Side mirrors are required by U.S. regulation, specifically Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 111. The petitioners propose that cameras could be just as safe while offering gains in aerodynamics which helps to improve fuel efficiency by reducing drag.
* Kia teased with a photo of an all-new midsize multi-purpose vehicle that will be unveiled at the 2014 New York International Auto Show in two weeks. This global debut will challenge the segment and will offer the functionality to transport as many as eight passengers and their belongings while also serving as a purposeful offering for adventure seekers. Stay tuned!
* GM announced yet another recall involving a power steering defect in more than 1.5 million compact and midsize cars from the 2004-10 model years. About half of the vehicles affected are Chevrolet Malibu models from 2004 and 2005 and some from 2006, 2008 and 2009, as well as all 2004, 2005 and some 2006 Malibu Maxx models. Also recalled are Saturn Ions from 2005-2007, 2005 Pontiac G6 models, as well as some from 2006, 2008 and 2009, 2008 and 2009 Saturn Auras, some 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt models and some 2009 and 2010 Chevrolet HHR models. Many of these vehicles re also involved in the ignition switch recall.
* The Detroit News reports that a top United Auto Workers official says the union will make a final decision on whether to pursue a 25-percent dues hike “within weeks.” The union is considering the hike — from two hours’ worth of an employee’s monthly pay to two-and-a-half hours — to boost the union’s strike fund. The fund once totaled $1 billion but today is down to about $600 million. For a veteran autoworker making $28 an hour, the increase would cost $14 a month, or $168 a year (or, a new annual total of $840). Newer union members in the lower $14-an-hour wage tier would pay half that amount. Even if a majority of its members vote to approve a dues hike, there will likely be some in Michigan who will opt out of the union when the current contract expires. Michigan is home to 60,000 or so hourly auto factory union members at Ford, GM and Chrysler who, under the state’s new right-to-work law, could opt-out of union membership.
* GM's President Mary Barra testified before two Congressional committees about the ignition switch recall debacle. Under intense grilling from members of Congress, Ms. Barra held her composure, even though it was clear many of the inquisitors were more interested in hearing themselves. Ms. Barra hinted that GM might compensate victims of accidents that occurred before the 2009 bankruptcy, even though the company is legally protected by agreements made in bankruptcy court. NHTSA acting Administrator David Friedman also appeared. He vowed to hold GM accountable if they failed to provide known information.
* Another interesting development in the GM recall case was revealed this week as the company engaged attorney Kenneth Feinberg, known for managing victim compensation for both the 911 and BP oil spill disasters, to handle liability claims surrounding this huge recall issue. She called it "the first step in assessing its responsibility" to victims.
* FAC's Chrysler Group will recall nearly 870,000 SUVs, 2011-14 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs, to prevent brake problems tied to water exposure. They will install a shield that protects brake boosters from corrosion.
* Work continues to remove Corvettes from the sinkhole beneath the Skydome of the National Corvette Museum. Of the eight cars that were swallowed by the earth, five have been removed in conditions that make them restorable. The last three will be a challenge. The recently removed ZR-1 Spyder is virtually totally destroyed. The white 1.5 Millionth Corvette came out most recently and at the moment they can't even find the red 2001 Mallett Hammer Z06.
* The New York Times presented what we already knew in a recent story. When motorcycle helmet laws are eased, fatalities rise. The report says that in the last two decades six states have repealed or relaxed laws requiring helmets. More states are considering to do the same. Of the 19 states still with a universal motorcycle helmet law, eight are considering to weaken them. The Motorcycle Riders Foundation says, "We are 100 percent anti-helmet laws but 100 percent pro-helmet." It's all about the government not telling us what to do.
* April 1st brought us the usual April Fool auto stories such as a Viper Sportback to be be shown at the NY Auto Show, the MINI Paceman GoalCooper, and the Ford C-Max Energi Kingsford Edition equipped with an in-vehicle charcoal grill that captures heat energy typically lost in the barbequing process to help charge the hybrid battery. April 1st also brought around the 40th Anniversary of the 1975 VW Rabbit, the 1964 introduction of the Plymouth Barracuda, the last Chevy Corvair being built in 1969, and the 1970 debut of the AMC Gremlin.
* Honda has a 1000cc 109HP Mean Mower has broken a Guinness World Records™ title for the Fastest lawnmower!. Honda (UK)’s Mean Mower (#meanmower) has officially broken the GUINNESS WORLDs title for the Fastest lawnmower, averaging 116.57 mph to break the previous record by almost 30mph.
* The U.S. Transportation Department kicked off the first-ever national distracted driving awareness month, and will fund nationwide advertising and law enforcement on texting and other dangerous behavior behind the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 3,328 people were killed and an estimated 421,000 were injured in distraction-related crashes in 2012. The campaign will run in English and Spanish and also on the radio.
* The average fuel economy of new U.S. light vehicles sold in March rose to 25.4 mpg, according to University of Michigan researchers, the highest since the researchers began collecting data in October 2007. The fuel economy of new U.S. light trucks, cars, SUVs and vans sold last month rose 0.3 mpg from the revised figure for February and is 5.3 mpg higher than the October 2007 average, according to a monthly report from the university’s Transportation Research Institute.
* For the second time in three years, Mazda Motor Corp has issued a recall for Mazda6 sedans in North America because of a spider that likes the smell of gasoline and weaves a web that blocks a vent in the engine. Mazda told the NHTSA that it is recalling 42,000 sedans with 2.5-liter engines from model years 2010 to 2012 in the United States. Three years ago, Mazda recalled about 65,000 Mazda6 sedans in North America from model years 2009 and 2010, also because of spider webs blocking evaporative canister vent lines.
* More than three months after suffering a near-fatal blow to the head during a family ski trip, legendary Formula One race champ Michael Schumacher is reported to be showing “moments of consciousness and awakening,” according to his manager, perhaps the first significantly positive sign since he was injured in the Alps on December 29th. The announcement is one of the rare details of the race star’s medical progress since shortly after Schumacher tumbled over some hidden rocks, hitting the right side of his head hard enough to crack his helmet.
* Troubles in the Russian economy, partly because of the takeover of Crimea and resulting economic sanctions, have triggered layoffs and cuts in production at Ford's joint venture company that makes a variety of vehicles for the Russian market. Sales are down 21% to just over 10,000 vehicles/month. The market was already slumping before the geo-political crisis.
* Chrylser will remain a US legal entity as new owner, Fiat, restructures it, maybe renames it, and prepares for an initial public offering. The merger of the two companies will not be complete until later this year according to CEO Sergio Marchionne. Fiat hosted its annual general meeting this week where some expected more clarification about future plans. The overall entity, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, will be incorporated in the Netherlands.
* We've been wondering where highly-regarded Hyundai boss, John Krafcik, whose contract was not renewed after a five-year stint with the Korean automaker, would land. We learned this week he has been appointed to the board of directors of fledgling auto shopping Web site TrueCar.com. An IPO is in the offing for the Web business and Krafcik gets a great deal of credit for bringing Hyundai from obscurity to mainstream in short order. Although not a full-time gig according to Krafcik, it sounds like a good match.